SPLC lawyer’s criticisms of Flagler wouldn’t stand up in court
Your front-page story on the discipline gap in Flagler County schools would be discouraging to even the staunchest supporter of equal opportunity and meaningful education if one were not aware of some salient factors that skew the presentation before the African American Cultural Society by the representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Amir Whitaker.
At the outset, please note this letter does not have the objective of denying that there may be a problem in our county’s school system vis-a-vis the black student population, but it is solely to point out flaws in Mr. Whitaker’s presentation, as well as the organization he purports to represent.
Starting with the Law Center, your average reader might not be aware that this organization, which has existed since 1971, does not have the best of reputations even among progressive leaders and writers. The FBI, hardly a right wing nut group, has stopped using it as a source for identifying hate groups since early 2014 following the center’s misguided yet scurrilous attack on the Family Research Council as a hate group because of its defense of traditional marriage. The late Alexander Cockburn, who was a leading left-wing columnist, as far back as 2009 identified it and its leader, Morris Dees, as King of the Hate Business, hardly as an encomium, more as an expose of its questionable practices.
Thus it may be argued that one should consider the reliability and motive of the organization that has filed the original complaint.
Examining the contents of Mr. Whitaker’s presentation as to his findings also raises more questions than answers, and would lead to the conclusion much of his so-called evidence of discrimination does not pass muster.
Several times in the course of his arguments, he decries the “outcome” as evidence of inherent discrimination. The vast majority of professionals involved in equal opportunity causes recognize that “equal opportunity” does not rely on equality of outcome as evidence of its existence.
What equal opportunity means is just that: that all have an equal chance or opportunity to education, and if there is evidence found that minority students in Flagler County have been denied the opportunity to learn, there is a problem. There seems to be a paucity of such evidence, at least from the report of the meeting. Different outcomes in educational achievement are not evidence of unequal opportunity, as the fact is some learn more quickly and better than others given the same conditions. There are societal factors that come to bear in educational results that are outside the purview of the educational system, such as family support, peer pressures, and the like, but these do not represent discriminatory acts of the system. Disparate outcome has aught to do with race absent the presence of discriminatory acts that can be found to have an impact.
The fallacy of Mr. Whitaker’s position is evidenced by his assertion that the “difference in educational outcomes and in disciplinary enforcement likely comes from implicit bias and from the history of segregation that led Flagler County to remain under court jurisdiction, because its schools remained segregated into the 1970s.” Was there no one present to call to his attention the simple fact that, according to the Census, the population of Flagler County has grown from 4,454 in 1970 to 95,696 in 2014? Are we to believe that this almost 22-fold increase in the population of the county left in place the attitudes of the relatively few county residents of over 40 years ago? Were there cadres of racists from that era tasked with inculcating new arrivals in the county with the attitudes of the people of the ’70s? If there were, I, for one, missed them when I moved here from New York City 10 years ago. Talk about the sins of the father: We are tarred by Mr. Whitaker and his organization with the alleged racist attitudes of a small number of residents from the last century.
I believe if he were to argue this surmise before a court, it would be dismissed for what it is: an absurdity.
Christopher J. Hoey
Editor’s Note: The Southern Poverty Law Center is listed as an “outreach partner” on fbi.gov.
Racial bias persists in Amir Whitaker, not in local schools
I am very surprised that the Palm Coast Observer would print such a biased article like this, covering the entire front page of the paper. I have no grievances against black people. I know many very nice black people as well as people of many other races and ethnicities. However, this article presents only one side of an issue.
My question is not “Why are black students punished more often and more severely?” but, “Are they actually responsible for a higher percentage of the offences and crimes which require the punishment?”
Over the past few years, and in this article, I see no reference at all to the reasons for the higher levels of punishments. The proponents of the fact that there is more discipline of black students always ignore that question. Why?
I quote from the article: “They’re only 4% of the population in the district’s gifted classes, he said, and there is only one black male student in dual enrollment classes, while there are 52 white male students.”
“The disparity persists, despite general progress in the district’s handling of disciplinary matters. … And only 6% of the district’s teachers — and 4% of elementary school teachers — are black.”
“‘Discipline is not exercised equally on our students,’ he said. ‘Blacks are 16% of students in Flagler, but 39% of students suspended multiple times.’”
The case docket of the Southern Poverty Law Center complaint against Flagler, Escambia, Bay, Okaloosa and Suwannee school districts said black students in each of those counties “were subjected to harsh disciplinary policies at a far higher rate than their white classmates” and “were often subjected to long-term suspensions, expulsions and even arrested at school for relatively minor misconduct.”
“‘I haven’t encountered anyone that I genuinely believe is just racist and wants to suspend black students more or wants to expel black students,’ (Whitaker) said. Instead, he said, the difference in educational outcomes and in disciplinary enforcement likely stems from implicit bias and from the history of segregation that led Flagler County to become one of the 16 of Florida’s 67 counties to remain under court jurisdiction, because its schools remained segregated into the 1970s.”
“Likely stems” is strictly one man’s opinion, and is not backed up with any facts. It seems to me that if there is any bias here, it is on the part of Mr. Whitaker.
The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights in March 2014 stated that, nationwide, “Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5% of white students are suspended, compared to 16% of black students.”
“And black children are more likely to be arrested in school and enter what has been called the ‘school to prison pipeline.’”
“While black students represent 16% of student enrollment, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest,” according to the Office of Civil Rights brief.
I hope that someone with the real statistics can answer all of the above “why” questions and start a real dialog about how to fix the problems.